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Hard-hitting campaigns can help prevent drinking during pregnancy, new research shows

by Public Health Australia

Image from the 'One Drink' campaign by the WA Mental Health Commission and the Cancer Council WA. Cr

New research is putting alcohol use during pregnancy in the spotlight, prompting calls from public health experts for ongoing investment in hard-hitting campaigns to support alcohol-free pregnancies.


During pregnancy, no level of alcohol consumption is without potential harm to the developing foetus. However, many parents-to-be still remain unaware that the safest level of consumption is zero, indicating a failure of public health messaging in the UK and many other countries where alcohol consumption in women, as well as men is prevalent. 

In Australia, public health authorities used an online survey of 400 adults aged 18-45 to evaluate the impact of a campaign that used strong messaging and hard-hitting imagery to get this basic message across. 

Results indicated that the campaign was not only memorable, but also led to significant increases in agreement that pregnant women should not drink alcohol (assessed among females and males) and intentions to abstain during pregnancy (assessed among females only). 

These findings suggest that it might be possible to reduce alcohol consumption during pregnancy (and possibly more generally) via strong public health campaigns like this one. 

However, as a large proportion of pregnancies are unplanned, care also needs to be taken to address the potential risks of increasing stress and anxiety during pregnancy, as these can also have detrimental effects on the health of mothers and their unborn children. See:

Research suggests that not only mothers-to-be, but also fathers-to-be should aim to avoid alcohol in the period before conception (and ideally during their partner's pregnancy), as animal studies show that paternal alcohol consumption also has negative effects on embyonic and foetal development via 'epigenetic' influences on sperm - which can also lead to classic features of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder previously thought to result only from maternal alcohol consumption. See:

Very importantly, research in both humans and animals shows that better maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy can signifcantly reduce the negative effects of prenatal alcohol consumption. See:

For details of the current study, see:

And for more information on the damaging effects of alcohol on prenatal development, see:

24th November 2023, Medical Xpress


New research published Nov. 21 is putting alcohol use during pregnancy in the spotlight, prompting calls from public health experts for ongoing investment in hard-hitting campaigns to support alcohol-free pregnancies.

The new study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, analyzed adults' views on alcohol and pregnancy to evaluate the impact of a public education campaign that aired in Western Australia from January 2021 to May 2022.

The "One Drink" campaign, developed by the WA Mental Health Commission in collaboration with Cancer Council WA, features a video of a baby-shaped glass being filled with red wine to illustrate that any amount of alcohol a mother drinks, the baby drinks too. The campaign has recently recommenced airing in WA.

Public health experts say the research findings suggest many Australians of childbearing age do not understand the risks associated with alcohol use during pregnancy but are much more likely to abstain when informed of the risks.

Lead author Prof. Simone Pettigrew from The George Institute for Global Health says there is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy, and the community has a right to know the facts so they can make an informed decision.

"Previous research has found that around 35% of Australian women use alcohol at some stage during their pregnancy," she said.

"Similarly, in this study we found that before seeing the campaign, almost one-third of men and women aged 18 to 45 were confused about the risks and thought it was okay for women to drink some alcohol during pregnancy."

Pettigrew says there haven't been many mass media campaigns about pregnancy and alcohol, and therefore there is limited evidence available about their impact.

"This research was an important opportunity to evaluate a distinctive campaign that ran in WA and see how successful it was," says Pettigrew.

To evaluate the campaign, researchers surveyed male and female Western Australians of childbearing age, both before and after the campaign ran.

"We found that 76% of survey respondents recalled seeing the campaign. We also uncovered really positive signs that the campaign would help dissuade pregnant women from drinking," Pettigrew says.

"Additionally, we found that after the campaign had aired, 95% of women reported intending to abstain from drinking when pregnant—and both males and females were more likely to agree that pregnant women shouldn't drink any alcohol.

"We had previously found that one in two people who viewed the campaign agreed that it contained new health information. This latest research suggests that potential mothers are likely to stop drinking if they are well informed of the risks."

Pettigrew added that the latest research should send a message to Government about the need to continue to fund these types of confronting, attention-grabbing campaigns.

"There is often contention around whether hard-hitting health campaigns are effective, but this is one of the best campaign evaluations I've seen. It shows that campaigns with strong imagery, clear health warnings and new information about pregnancy and alcohol are an effective, worthwhile investment."

Adjunct Prof Terry Slevin, CEO, Public Health Association of Australia says alcohol is still one of the biggest public health challenges in Australia.

"Alcohol isn't just an issue in pregnancy, but also a significant public health challenge when it comes to mental health and injury. It also plays a role in over 200 chronic health problems including cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, nutrition-related conditions, cirrhosis, and overweight and obesity.

"We need comprehensive Government action to address the negative impact Australia's drinking culture continues to have. As well as hard-hitting health campaigns, we need nationwide minimum alcohol pricing, controls on availability, marketing restrictions to protect children, and warning labels."